Monday, January 24, 2011

Travel With Care

I got in a bus accident. That is to say I had an accident on the streetcar. Just as it was slowing to a stop, I unwisely let go of the railing and during that split second it lurched forward unexpectedly. As I was compensating for my weight in one direction, suddenly it went in the other. My feet went out from under me, gravity pulled me down and the edge of a nearby seat caught the soft fleshy part of my abdomen just under the right side of my ribs. Pain shot through my body and the recently purchased items from Shoppers Drugmart went skimming around the car. My friend Todd, as well as everyone else on the bus, watched speechless as I groaned uncontrollably and held my side. Although it felt like ripping in half to reach down and get my things, I did so hoping it would distract me from the pain.

I exited at my stop and continued on my way, groaning all the way home. My friend trailed behind me not knowing what to say, so I announced: “I just have to breathe” and did so deeply, trying to calm my nerves, which screamed and hissed like a wild mink thrown sadistically into the fire. The intensity of this pain reminded me of the pain of breaking a rib, yet luckily, breathing deeply was the one thing that made it feel better, so my ribs must have been fine. It was the lower area not affecting my skeletal system that was seeing its darkest day.

We got to my place and still the pain wouldn’t subside. I would like to think I have a high pain tolerance but I was forced to stay as immobile as possible since everything else hurt. Relaying the incident to someone else, they said: “I hope you didn’t bruise your liver.” Although I had never heard of that before, I waved off the concern, firing back “No, it’s OK. I fell on my right side. The liver’s on the left.” Then just to be sure, I checked the internet. Uh-oh. Apparently my memory of anatomy has faded since I have completed my CCPE: the liver IS on the right side. What I read was troubling: “Having a bruised liver is no small matter, and if not attended to immediately can cause further problems.” I started feeling worried and faint. Was I feeling faint because I was worried or worried because I felt faint? At that moment, I didn’t have time to process or enumerate on the particular strengths and weaknesses of the James-Lange theory of emotion. I felt extremely light-headed and my ears were starting to ring. Was this the result of internal bleeding? Was I experiencing rhabdomyolysis?? In any case, suddenly it felt like my life was in danger. I wasn’t going to die painfully in my room listening to tunes on I turned to Todd and said “I don’t feel so good.” Catching my litotes, he stood straight up and said: “Dude, you look really pale!” I had never done this before but what I did next was to call the ambulance.

They told me not to eat or drink anything and to stay on the line. Then they hung up on me. I started going through all the potential horror scenarios in my head, picturing them cutting me open in a desperate attempt to sew up cleaved organs, blood shooting out all over the operating table. I have four sisters who work in the health profession. I tried reaching just one of them to ask if I was crazy. No answer.

Maybe the fresh air helped because as we stood (key indication: I stood) outside waiting, I started to calm down. Only then did I consider that I might be overreacting. I wondered: should I call them back? It was a tricky situation. It wasn’t like a restaurant reservation that I could just cancel. It was one of those Shakespearian “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” (Macbeth) Only I wasn’t bleeding. Someone else could be bleeding to death and they would be deprived of an ambulance but how was I to know? It was too late to change my mind now. Maybe someone was in cardiac arrest. Either way, that ambulance was on its way to me.

The way the two men got out of the ambulance, you could tell they were already heading for the stretcher in the back. I sheepishly indicated that the ambulance was for me, like an embarrassed schoolchild saying “here” during attendance. I started flooding them with apologies, feeling silly for calling them and then walked myself into the back, watching my head. The paramedic was a friendly young Asian man who reassured that it was fine, took my blood pressure and temperature then told me that “everything checks out normal, so far.” He explained that he’s also had the pleasure of “rocking his side on the corner of a dock after a couple drinks” before and he was fine. The liver is a “resilient organ made of soft gooshy tissue” so by then I was certainly feeling that I would be fine. I tried to probe again: is this needed? Should we just turn around? But he suggested I goto the hospital and get checked out, if not for anything else, just to get some “peace of mind.”

Well, an hour or so later after wading/waiting through rooms of scarred, wheel-chaired and tragic-looking individuals, I was siphoned through triage where I met Doctor #1. Again, I explained that I wasn’t too worried anymore. He suggested I stay and go through with it anyway. By this point it was just a formality, like showing up for a date even though you weren’t so keen. “You don’t want to get the medical bill” for skipping out early, he warned. “How much is the regular bill?” $45. GTK.

When I saw Doctor # 2 he poked around and tried to figure out where it hurt. There was one particular spot that made me jump but it didn’t hurt too much anywhere else. My back didn’t hurt which would have been a concern for kidney damage.

Because I had just been reading Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box where he explains the obstacles to Darwin’s theory of evolution, namely gradualism in the face of all the scientific advances since the discovery of the microscope, DNA etc., I was particularly interested by the way a health professional such as Doctor #2 phrased his explanation of why I shouldn’t be too worried about the blow to my side: “Whoever designed us has done an excellent job of hiding most of the liver behind the ribcage…” (Refer to Figure 1 at the top of this article). I had just been reading hundreds of pages proposing an alternative to Darwin’s evolutionary theory, namely the argument for intelligent design and what he was saying convince me that we were on the same page. Of course the argument for design vs undirected process has been going on long before Darwin but the word "design" triggered something in me. The fact that this doctor was talking about our ‘design’ as if it was purposefully done by someone (or something) gave me a shiver.

Often, critics of Darwin’s theory are branded as simple-minded creationists with no regard for science. Darwin’s theories are compelling and ‘survival of the fittest’ is one of the most accepted and pervasive ideas in our modern capitalist society. But do we really live in a ‘natural’ world where our survival attests to our fitness? How can evolution explain the gradual steps it took to reach irreducibly complex systems such as the blood clotting system, which relies on all parts to function at all, and would be no better with one set of most of the parts vs another set of most of the parts, for the particular task of clotting? On the other hand, if there was ever a God, maybe he's forgotten about us or he's too busy with other universes to deal with us, as Bernard-Henri Levi suggests, or maybe as Richard Dawkins suggests: if there's a watchmaker, he's blind so he can't fix us anyway. But talking to this doctor was first-hand proof that it was possible to consider scientific theory as compatible with intelligent design.

Maybe the earth wasn’t created in seven days but is it possible that at least some stages of evolution were destined either by a well-planned out environment, to reach the animal kingdom ready-made, with certain purposes in mind? I realize that any time you talk about “destiny” it rings of superstition and if intelligent design were true, it should be just as appealing to an atheist as it is to a theist. Unfortunately, in my opinion, neither evolution nor intelligent design are testable theories until we figure out how to time travel.

Once Doctor #2 laid out my options and prescribed some codeine, I finally had the chance to simply leave. It would take all day just to get in for an X-ray or for some imaging and since my ribs were obviously fine and my liver doesn’t hang down below my ribs like a seasoned alcoholic’s might: "two young healthy guys like us", I left.

Patient Todd was still in the first waiting room, with the other patients. Since there are no cellphones allowed in the hospital, I never got his text asking whether or not he should stay. We ended up back on the streetcar where it all started, heading back to my place. I sat down cautiously and held the bar a little longer than usual. “At least we got to ride the ambulance.” Todd offered. Yes we did.

Personal Diegesis

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Duchess is Historically if not Politically Correct

The first movie I watched in 2011 was The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightly and Ralph Fiennes.

It's about 18th century aristocrat who was surely the talk of all the coffee houses. As the Duchess of Devonshire and leading fashionista by proxy, she was a trend-setter but also a deal-breaker who broke the mold by having an affair with Charles Grey. Knightly as Georgiana Spencer does an excellent job of showing her (secret) admiration for Grey, who was a rival but who stood for ideas like "freedom", a theme explored throughout the movie through the different compromises Spencer had to make for her family and herself as a woman. At one point the Duke takes her children hostage and threatens to destroy Grey's political career unless she resolves to remain with him and make the marriage work.

This movie showed how different the 'olden days' were, with the sexist assumption that while a man has certain "duties" to his wife, she wasn't able to enforce them on him. They were merely ideals. As a result, no wonder women were thought to be characterized by "trickery" and a low moral character. They had no rights to exercise! Men were free to have their romps but women were expected to remain "imprisoned" in their homes -a word Georgiana tactfully extracts from her husband's euphemistic language ordering her what to do. They were to have no pleasure, sexual or otherwise, for themselves. During an intimate conversation, Grey makes an observation about Georgiana to the effect that she worries too much what others think. She responds that she never thought of it but how petty that makes her seem! The first kiss that they share shows a building from Pride and Prejudice in the background, another period piece to which Knightly is well suited.

Although Keira Knightly is very easy on the eyes, movies like this can be hard for some to watch. Just as I have heard people's angry response to the series Mad Men because it's set in the 50's and thus portrays all of the sexism of that time without editing out history with a politically correct vengeance. It is hard to watch a wife come to the decision that allowing her husband to rape her is really the best choice for her children. You wish somehow that plot would get hijacked. That was the reality of the situation though! Poetic license doesn't work if you want to get a biography right.

I enjoyed this movie because it's an important love story without much love. It made me empathize with the 18th century woman. I felt that although I was lazing around with my laptop, I wasn't wasting time boobtubing. I was at least getting some sense of history.

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